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Been holed up too long? Need a fall road trip? Want to celebrate the holidays with a family experience to remember rather than gifts no one needs and will soon forget?
Plan a trip to Denver, the only US city named by Lonely Planet as one of the “Top Ten Cities in the World to Visit in 2020.” Situated between Boulder and Colorado Springs, the area offers a positive, laid back, vibe; natural beauty and outdoor attractions; and a creative and culinary scene. Or if you need an escape from the current climate, channel Steinbeck and go all Travels with Charley in Search of America because Denver also made Lonely Planet’s Top 10 List of Cities to Visit with your Dog.
If the pandemic has moved you to make a bigger move… U.S. News & World Report ranked Denver the #2 best place to live in the country based on affordability, job prospects and quality of life. Prior to 2020, my only experience in Colorado was chaperoning a school trip at Purgatory Resort in Durango. The resort lived up to its name when my first attempt at skiing was a bust (I may be the only person who has ridden a ski lift down the slope after thinking I’d broken my tailbone when I jumped from the chair). I wrote off Colorado thinking it’s all about skiing—one of those things, like eating with chopsticks, I’m just too uncoordinated to do. Until… one weekend last year when my son, Cole, visited Denver and Colorado Springs and decided he’d make the area his new home.
It was a fit for his IT career and healthy lifestyle. And he loved Denver (as he did Marrakesh, Morocco where I’d lived and he’d visited) for its arid climate; majestic, snow-capped mountain range; and sunny skies about 300 days per year. Bonus are flight schools so he can work on a pilot’s license—another goal. So he flew back to Tennessee on a mission. By June 2020 he was hired by a large company in Broomfield, “The Silicon Valley of the Rockies,” and found an apartment there. Last July he packed his belongings into a moving truck and set out on a 1400- mile road trip from his home in Knoxville with his car (and me–a stowaway!) in tow. Seriously, I’m so thankful he allowed me to tag along to document the adventure. Doesn’t every mom want to see her adult child’s dream coming true?
Broomfield is 10 minutes from Boulder, 30 minutes from Denver, and #3 for raising a family in Colorado with great schools and low crime. Like many who have moved to new cities during Covid, he hasn’t met his coworkers in person since everyone works from home. But he likes that getting a driver’s license in his new state meant automatic voter registration and a mail-in ballot; that his electricity is powered by windmills nearby on clean, open spaces; that there are more vegan options than in Knoxville; that his company has a basketball goal and outdoor grilling area, that he has pro hockey, baseball, football, basketball and soccer teams.
Reasons to Plan a Trip (Or Move) to Denver
Disclaimer: This list is not as comprehensive as other guides I’ve written on destinations in the US and abroad. Partly because Covid changes everything daily from what is closed, what is open, the whens and wheres. But mostly my guide is a work in progress because I need to do more research on multiple visits. 🙂
Topping my list of why I love the Denver area so far are all the outdoor areas to explore– hiking and biking trails, lakes and streams…street art and live music… and a multitude of restaurant and brewery patios. Hand sanitizer is as ubiquitous as masks, allowing everyone to chill for awhile and breathe.
Top of my must-do list on my first trip was an electric bike tour of Boulder.
I’m a big believer in starting with a guided tour of any city to get the “lay of the land.” I hoped this one would be as fun and informative as the food tour I did in Madrid or the electric bike tour I did through Costa Brava hill towns. Cole was a good sport to go with me (and the two other ladies my age we met on the tour) –especially on a record-high hot July day. He said later that coasting down hills made him feel like a kid again and I loved feeling that way, too. We learned a lot from our guide about these…
Boulder Creek Path–Watch locals tubing down the stream.
The University of Colorado Boulder–The flagship of the UC system established in 1876.
Historic Hotel Boulderado
Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse— A gift from Dushanbe to Boulder, their Sister City, built by more than 40 artisans in several cities of Tajikistan. The hand-carved ceiling and woodwork is stunning.
The Flatirons–Amazing Photo Opp
Chautauqua–I couldn’t wait to see this given my love for the Chautauqua movement that started in the1890s and continues at Monteagle, Tennessee where I began solo travel trips in the 2000s and still love writing retreats in the Assembly today.
Bonus was a stop at The Sink, where Robert Redford was a janitor in 1955 and famous guests include President Obama and Anthony Bourdain.
Note: This July bike tour was my first experience using the GoPro Hero 8 and Performance Chest Mount. Because some shots were blocked when I also used my camera phone, I plan to use the Head Mount for moving shots in the future.
And add to the list Pearl Street to hang out in a coffee shop or book store, dance to live music, skate, skateboard, shop, eat, or drink.
Last weekend Cole took me to the the place he liked most on his visit last year to Colorado. In 1859 after the “Pike’s Peak or Bust” gold rush, men began looking for a site for a town at the mountain’s base. Two Kansas builders of what would become Colorado Springs happened upon red rock formations in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by nothing but trails the American Indians used. One of them, Melancthon Beach, thought it would be an ideal place for a beer garden one day, while his partner, Rufus Cable, disagreed:
“Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble, and we will call it the Garden of the Gods.”
Postcards from Garden of the Gods
I hope to explore more off-the-beaten-path areas like the one above near Garden of the Gods –especially the hot springs.
This is a foodie town and we’re just getting started…
Brunch on the North Side
On the way to Colorado Springs, we stopped north of Denver in Sunnyside, a neighborhood that has been revived over the last ten years with a strong sense of community. It reminded me of East Nashville before the Music City boom. I’d read that Bacon had a huge patio and great food, but because the wait was so long, we went to El Jeffe next door and were glad we did. I didn’t order the Breakfast Burrito, a Denver delicacy, because the Pescado Tacos and Huevos Con Chorizo Tacos were too tempting. We couldn’t do the Bottomless Brunch (you can mix and match Blood Marys, Mimosa, and Sangrias), but we did have a sangria before taking off and I’d love to return and try more good stuff on their dinner menu.
I didn’t realize that many consider Denver the #1 US City for Beer. I was there during Denver Beer Week, so when in Rome…
On the way back from Colorado Springs, we had some great pizza and brews– Pikes Peak Little London and Blue Mesa Tropical– outdoors at 16th Street Mall.
Since covering a Street Art Exhibit in Marrakesh, I’ve loved seeing artists’ works in other cities. RiNo is a place to enjoy sunshine, takeout from Central Market, and the skyline.
Cole’s grandfather/my dad was an outdoorsman who loved Colorado. He would have loved visiting Cole, too.
Next time I want to find the best Rocky Mountain Oysters and Green Chile in Denver–any suggestions? I want to buy a University of Colorado sweatshirt and learn to fly fish (know a guide)? I love a mix of exploring new territory and enjoying family traditions, too–like last weekend when we watched Iron Man and SNL while eating takeout from Tsing Tao and Azitra.
Whether you travel or stay home for the holidays, stay safe and celebrate the good times that have happened despite a very difficult year. No matter what 2021 holds… remember…